First on my research agenda was a trip over the Pennines to Leeds at the beginning of March.
The Tetley hosted the 20th anniversary of the longest running artists’ book fair outside of London. Co-curated with PAGES, the fair coincided with exhibition These books were alive; they spoke to me! an exhibition of printed matter and performance works by Barcelona based artist Dora García. This dual programming was excellent timing, enabling me to see both a traditional fair and a more conceptual approach to artist books.
The fair was busy with a diverse mix in both quality and purpose. The exhibitor list included:
Joan Ainley & MR SMITH / Janet Allsebrook / AMBruno / Art and Design, University of Leeds / ArtStream / As Yet Untitled / Stella Baraklianou / David Barton / Batley School Of Art > Fine Art For Design / BA Visual Communication, Beds College of Art / Best Books by Bernard Anwyl: Contemporary artists / Book Works / Bound Unbound / Mandy Brannan / Café Royal Books / Camberwell College of Arts, MA Book Arts / Corridor 8 / Cracked Eggs / Jane Cradock-Watson / Ensixteen Editions / Essence Press / Fine Art UCLan / Good Press / Gordian Projects / Matthew Kay / Hi Vis Press / Jane Kennelly / Kiss and Tell Press / Ladette Space / Lame / Leeds Fine Art / Less Than Five Hundred Press / Lion and Lamb Press – UCA Illustration / Longbarrow Press / Sophie Loss / MA BIBLIOTH_QUE / John McDowall / New Arcadian Press / Old Bear Press / PagePaperStitch / paperscissorsbook / Raquel Amat Parra / David Penny / The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe / Rock – Tree – Landscape / Anne Rook / Rudywilf / SALT+SHAW / Seeing Poetry / The Serving Library / Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun / Shoddy: a disability art project / Tim Shore / Chloe Spicer with Object Book / Surface Pattern LCAD / Thomas Tomasska / University of Derby / whnicPRESS / Wild Pansy Press / Joanna Wilkinson / Lydia Wysocki.
From solo artists to studio groups to institutions, the fair resulted in some interesting conversations with stall holders. I absorbed an awful lot from my – often banal – questions about editions, printing, collaborations and artistic goals.
Dora García’s exhibition was a cerebral but intoxicating meditation on the act of reading and its different forms. As a retrospective, the show brought together books, book sculptures, printed matter and performance focusing on the connection between literature, theatre and film.
As my first formal introduction to García the visit was a valuable exercise. I found that her work Steal This Book, according to a gallery sign, had already been stolen that day. A fresh book would be supplied tomorrow.
While books were obviously a key theme in the exhibition, emphasis on the social and performative ac involved in reading stood out. The range of ephemera felt like tools that enabled García to interrogate wider relationships.
García’s artistic ‘bite’ left a lasting impression on the way home.
Reflecting back as I write this in June, I’d say the trip was an ideal starting point for my research. The relationship between an artist and book, and what form this can take, was at the heart. As García says, “It’s not that I write books, I make books.”